Build a Superpowered Organization: Thriving in 2023 and Beyond
Expertise and experience are often not enough to thrive, let alone survive in a world of accelerating change, frequent disruptions and ever-increasing uncertainty. This environment is the new norm for the foreseeable future. A new set of leadership capabilities — the Five Leadership Superpowers — are needed to thrive in this tumultuous environment. Developing these powers will enable an organization to navigate and thrive in this new world.
The Superpowers help leaders and leadership teams see the present and future differently and more robustly. They push leaders to shift their mindsets, approaches and models they use to run the organization and prepare it for the future. They open leaders’ minds to new possibilities. Seeing and thinking differently only matter when they lead to more timely and informed decision-making and action, resulting in better outcomes and more value for all stakeholders.
Developing the Superpowers is a journey, not a one-time thing. The most significant value comes when they are sustained and embedded in leadership and throughout the organization. This work requires an initial investment of time and resources. Often the initial stages uncover issues to address that call for additional effort in the near term. Yet these efforts ultimately reduce costs and unnecessary and avoidable risks and often identify new opportunities to capitalize on. They free up time and resources previously wasted due to poor, uninformed decisions and position the organization to take advantage of opportunities earlier and excel going forward.
The cost and risks of not adopting the Superpowers can be steep and include:
- Ongoing adverse impacts on performance as leaders continue to be caught off-guard and unprepared for disruptions and uncertainty, even when the former is often foreseeable or should have been seen and addressed sooner. The latter often could have been reduced.
- Added stress for all and loss of confidence in leadership, as leaders and others feel powerless to act and lose faith in their ability to address the issues faced.
- Hasty and often poor decisions as leaders are pressed to act quickly, resulting in emotional, knee-jerk choices and actions instead of being prepared and responding intentionally and thoughtfully.
As the old adage goes, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting something different to happen.” It is time to change and stop the insanity.
Become a Learning Organization With the 5 Leadership Superpowers
The Superpowers enable and epitomize what Peter Senge called “A Learning Organization” in his 1990 landmark book, "The Fifth Discipline." Harvard Business School professor David Garvin described it as “… an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.” In this book and "The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook," Senge and others discuss changing mindsets, developing new mental models and system thinking as essential capabilities.
Much of what Senge and his Fieldbook co-authors share is even more relevant now than when first published. But actively putting these in use requires rethinking one’s approach to challenges and represents a sea change in how many organizations think, decide, and act.
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When and Where Should the Superpowers Be Applied?
The Superpowers enable leaders to make better, faster, more informed and more actionable decisions. They are most valuable when they help leaders, and leadership teams better understand their challenges and opportunities, their environment, and how to prepare best to move forward in the short and longer term.
Strategy, strategic plans, operating plans and budgets can no longer be considered written in stone nor adhered to without being challenged. Our dynamic environment requires an informed, adaptive, flexible and principled approach, precisely like the Superpowers enable.
The insights, knowledge and lessons learned from building and applying the Superpowers are most valuable when they are used to drive more timely, informed, and effective decisions and actions, particularly in:
- Strategy Development — Strategy can no longer be developed in a vacuum or considered fixed. Regularly reviewing strategy and adapting it in the context of progress and performance, market conditions, and current and plausible future environments should be the norm.
- Strategy Execution Management — Strategy execution continues to challenge many companies. Change, disruptions and uncertainty exacerbate this. Under these conditions, leaders often only focus on the short term, leaving the longer term to later. However, for many, later never comes. Waiting is dangerous. Leaders must focus on the execution (operations) AND the long-term (strategy) not to impair the organization’s future. Adaptability and flexibility in execution are crucial to thriving.
- Operational Reviews — Performance reviews don’t only signal operations issues. They can tell us if the strategy is working or provide an early warning signal that it is not or that there are broader execution issues. These monthly or more frequent reviews are the places for taking corrective action while considering the strategic implications of operational decisions and deciding on operational changes to support the strategy better.
- Talent Management — Continually attracting and hiring the right talent with the right mindset and capabilities, managing talent development to prepare for the future (including succession planning and building a solid bench), and retaining performers is vital for success, especially in a turbulent environment.
- Culture — Culture shapes how work is done and people work together. Culture influences talent management and vice versa. Creating and reinforcing a collaborative, contextually aware, learning, forward-focused, performance-driven, and adaptive culture supports organizational preparedness and resilience, which are vital to thriving in a whitewater world.
Risk management, business continuity planning, communications and board governance can also benefit from the Superpowers. Integrating them into how the organization is run and led benefits all stakeholders, from the organization and its people to customers, communities and owners.
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Do Leaders Need to Understand and Be Proficient in Every Superpower?
Yes and no. Yes, to understand each of the Superpowers. No, to be proficient in all five. However, a leadership team should strive to be collectively proficient in all five. Working as Accountable Collaborators, the team mitigates individual weaknesses and reduces or eliminates blind spots. The organization benefits from the collective strength of all five, which exceeds the sum of its parts. Remember, strategy is a team sport!
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On the other hand, individual leaders should strive to be proficient in at least one or as many as three. The leader’s role, experience, and attributes should guide where to focus. For others, the leader will need to rely on the proficiency of others.
While generalizations are risky, here are a few illustrative examples for specific executive roles. Abbreviations are used for each Superpower: PF — Present Futurist, EL — Experienced Learner, PR — Prepared Risk Taker, SE — Strategic Executor and AC — Accountable Collaborator.
While these are generalizations, they are illustrative. Not every CXO will follow a similar pattern. A CTO once told me, “I do not want my CFO to be a risk-taker. I want them to be a bean counter. I want them focused on monitoring controls.” That may be a valid suggestion for some organizations where that is an issue versus being table stakes. Otherwise, it would be a hindrance to many others.
Building and sustaining individual and team proficiency is a journey, not a destination.
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Where and How Do You Start?
That depends on where you are. Every organization and everyone can have a different starting point based on their history, current circumstances and practices. The more important question is where you and the organization want to go and who you want to be in the future.
Here are five suggested questions to start the discussion:
- How is the organization currently performing? Is this good or bad? Why?
- How did you get to or end up where you are?
- Are you well-positioned for the future? Why or why not? What concerns you?
- Do you (your organization) have and use The Five Leadership Superpowers? How do you know this?
- Where are you going? Choose a time frame and define what success looks like at the end.
The goal is to discuss and build a consensus on the present and desired future state. Then discuss what it will take to get there. Based on that, here are four steps to consider individually or in combination with one another:
- Educate yourself and your organization on The Five Leadership Superpowers, learn what they entail, their value, and how/where to apply them through a public or customized education program.
- Conduct an assessment/survey of the state of the current capabilities in your organization or for yourself individually. Review the results and determine a roadmap to address capability gaps for individual leaders and the leadership team.
- If you are struggling to answer the five questions above and build a consensus among the leadership team, conduct a complete organizational and strategy/strategy execution assessment. The assessment should include reviewing operating and strategic performance documents, reviewing and refreshing your strategy and related strategy execution plans, conducting guided interviews with your leadership team, and conducting a survey to assess and get input from a broader audience. The project culminates with facilitated workshops to share and confirm where there is alignment and frame up the differences for discussion/debate. The goal is to provide directional clarity, define the capability and performance gaps, prioritize areas to focus on, build a high-level roadmap forward, develop an implementation plan, begin execution, and track progress.
- If you can answer these questions and have a consensus, then do not rest on your laurels. Be vigilant, look for ways to improve your capabilities, and search for and capitalize on new opportunities. Consider a coach to help guide and propel things to the next level.
These are only a few of the options available. Everyone’s journey is different.
This five-part series provides a foundation for moving forward. You may choose a DIY approach or to partner with an experienced guide. Whatever you choose, the most crucial step of the journey is the decision to start. It is time to recognize and act on the imperative to become more resilient and future-ready. Good luck on your journey to becoming a Superpowered organization that thrives in the face of disruption and uncertainty!
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About the Author
Jay Weiser is the Principal and Founder of Jay Weiser Consulting. Fueled by a passion for helping clients reach their potential, he enables leadership teams and their organizations to not only survive but thrive in the face of disruptiveness and uncertainty.